Category Archives: John Robb

John Robb on how the Seam can fight the Gap

In the past, I’ve occasionally been hard on John Robb’s theories. I’ve made fair criticisms. Robb has previously focused on very angry men, superempowered individuals who would lash out in acts of violence. Of course, such actors can only create random violence, and so their effects will be drowned out in the noise. Robb also focused on terrorist groups attacking the economies of their enemies, but terrorist organizations are much smaller than states, and by trying to take down the economies of their enemies they often are attacking their enemy at the strongest point. Very foolish.

However, John Robb is exactly right on how seam states like Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova can defend themselves against Russia. Russia is a Gap state with a brittle, fragile economy. Indeed, “Russia” is almost just another name for “Gazprom and her mecenaries.” Attacking the mercenaries attacks Russia will she is strong. Attacking Gazprom attacks Russia will she is weak:

Beneficially for these countries, the costs of maintaining a defensive posture that relies on systems disruption is nearly zero. There is no need to maintain a “toy army” or any defensive systems at all. In fact, it’s likely preferable not to put up any fight at all during a Russian incursion to minimize damage/casualties. What is needed are small teams (given how may in these countries already speak Russian and can pass for Russian) that can disrupt pipelines, powerlines, etc., which are very inexpensive to maintain (another option is to purchase guest workers/criminals to do the job). Further, some of these countries have a well developed software industry and can generate cyberattacks on Russian corporate targets. Even better, these countries can invite anyone in the world offended by the Russian action, through sites that provide target lists/exploits and offensive software, to join in the attacks (bounties/rewards could be offered for exceptional attacks). In many cases, the returns on investment (ROIs) for these disruptions can top one million $ to one $.

Every country that borders Russia or has friends that do should be studying how they can attack Russia’s hydrocarbon infrastructure. The simpe stupidity of Russia’s invasion of Georgia has already taken 40% off the Russian stock market. Imagine how much more painful that war could have been if Georgian special forces went Robbian, and began attacking Gazprom’s oil infrastructure across Russia.

The Weekly Standard: Obama as Bush III

I’ve been writing on how Barack Obama is running for George Bush’s third term for a while now. The Weekly Standard has a slightly different take, but reaches the same conclusion: both Obama and Bush demonstrate a lack of imagination when it comes to Iraq.

The Weekly Standard
Yes, I mean it: McCain should outright accuse Obama of being more like Bush on the war. They may have diametrically opposed positions, but their outlooks are identical in how single minded, inflexible, and (dare I say) dialectical they are. In the midst of a catastrophe back in 2005, Bush went on prime time to say, “My fellow citizens: Not only can we win the war in Iraq — we are winning the war in Iraq.” No matter how violent Iraq got, Bush would not face the facts on the ground. It took him until December 2006 to acknowledge for the first time that we weren’t winning and to adapt.

Bush believed victory was our certain destiny; Obama believed it was defeat. He opposed the surge, saying it could not and would not work–that there was simply no way to curb the violence we had unleashed in going to war. Even after it did work, Obama denied that Iraq was any safer until it was undeniable. Bush and Obama have tunnel vision–only McCain has demonstrated an ability to adapt, to win a war we were losing.

While there is a lot to look forward to in a Third Bush Term, I’d rather have John McCain.

5GWish Links

The Cold War (the 5GW against Communism, which kept going long after public and elite support collapsed) was the topic of Purpleslog’s interview on Covert Radio (his reflections on the interiew are up at Dreaming 5GW).

skilluminati was kind enough to comment on this blog with his observations of the Cold War 5GW. And over at his own blog, he chats about resilient communities.

The only dark lining to these silver crowds is that Skilluminati believes (as to some other novices in the field) that John Robb has written about 5GW somewhere. Robb hasn’t. He’s used the term, but uses it inconsistently to the rest of the world, and (if I remember correctly) never bothered to define it anyway. (This is a pattern).

John clearly has a good marketing mind (agitprop against the status quo is always a seller), though I feel sorry for those who are introduced to serious topics through his writing. (Ditto for Michelle Malkin, or Duncan Black). His recent post on Singapore is an example of the confusion you can run into when you replace understanding with Abandon hope simplicity.

John Robb in IEEE / Slashdot!

John Robb, who has both personal and theoretical blogs, was mentioned in a recent article in IEEE Spectrum that was picked up by Slashdot:

“What we are seeing is the empowerment of the individual to conduct war,” says John Robb, a counterterrorism expert and author of the book Brave New War (John Wiley & Sons), which came out in April. While the concept of asymmetric warfare dates back at least 2000 years, to the Chinese military strategist Sun-tzu, the conflict in Iraq has redefined the nature of such struggles [see photo, “Road to Perdition”]. As events are making painfully clear, Robb says, warfare is being transformed from a closed, state-sponsored affair to one where the means and the know-how to do battle are readily found on the Internet and at your local RadioShack. This open global access to increasingly powerful technological tools, he says, is in effect allowing “small groups to…declare war on nations.”

Need a missile-guidance system? Buy yourself a Sony PlayStation 2. Need more capability? Just upgrade to a PS3. Need satellite photos? Download them from Google Earth or Microsoft’s Virtual Earth. Need to know the current thinking on IED attacks? Watch the latest videos created by insurgents and posted on any one of hundreds of Web sites or log on to chat rooms where you can exchange technical details with like-minded folks.

Robb calls this new type of conflict “open-source warfare,” because the manner in which insurgent groups are organizing themselves, sharing information, and adapting their strategies bears a strong resemblance to the open-source movement in software development. Insurgent groups, like open-source software hackers, tend to form loose and nonhierarchical networks to pursue a common vision, Robb says. United by that vision, they exchange information and work collaboratively on tasks of mutual interest.


(The comments in the Slashdot article are exceptionally good.)

The evolution of a blogger

Many of his posts are still aggrevatingly incomplete. His most recent post on his personal blog, “Peer to Peer Globalization,” is self-contradictory. And his most recent prediction (which, admittedly, was just bandwagoning) has been falsified.

Still, (as I was mentioning to A.E. earlier), John Robb is becoming more interesting. Recent posts on “guerrilla group size in Iraq” and “The U.S. Embraces Open Source Warfare” are right on the money. Indeed, they reflect what I’ve been saying for a year or two.

I noted how Robb’s work splits between the useful and he aggrevation in my impressions of his book, Brave New War. Still, thre’s hope for more of the former and less of the latter. He seems to be moving away from the undefined concept of “global guerrilla,” instead focusing on the advantages of decentralization, distribution, and resilience. John’s a great marketer, so such a transition could be very helpful.

So what is the definition of "global guerrilla," anyway?

I thought global guerrillas opposed the hegemony of the state. Apparently not (or else John has now transformed into an official anarchist cheerleader):

Chris Anderson (the editor of Wired magazine) has been pushing the envelope of do-it-yourself reconnaissance using low cost UAVs, stitching software (in conjunction with Google Earth), a GPS datalogger ($99), and digital cameras (the Canon PowerShot SD650, at 6 MP). Yet another global guerrilla (for good) tinkering project for applications in security and disaster response.

Thanks to Curtis of Dreaming 5GW and the 5GW Theory Timeline for the link.

The War of Ideas in the Context of the Nation-Building-Industrial-Complex

Robb, J. (2007). Unleashing the dogs of war. Global Guerrillas. September 2, 2007. Available online: (from ZenPundit).

John Robb has an excellent piece on the Sysadmin-Industrial-Complex, the institutional support needed to expand and defend globalization against terrorism, socialism, and stupidity:

If you think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will end with this US presidency, think again. These wars will likely outlast the next several Presidents. The old Vietnam era formulas don’t apply anymore. The reason is that the moral weaknesses that have traditionally limited the state’s ability to fight long guerrilla wars have dissipated, and modern states may now have the ability and the desire to wage this type of war indefinitely. Here’s what changed:…

[T]he military and its civilian leadership still don’t have the ability to garner wide domestic support for guerrilla wars beyond the initial phases. However, they do have the ability to maintain support within a small but vocal base

The current degree of corporate participation in warfare makes the old “military industrial complex” look tame in comparison.

If this Long War really came down to a “war of ideas,” we would lose. Fortunately, it won’t. However, it’s still useful and helpful to have a “small but vocal base” to distract and wear down opponents as the broader structure of the Military-Industrial-Sysadmin-Complex fights on.

Viral swarming

Robb., J. (2007). The coming urban terror. City Journal. Summer 2007. Available online: (from Global Guerrillas).

A few days ago, John Robb emphasized the danger of engineered viruses. The piece was a hit, being featured on adayinthelife, Ed Driscoll, jilosophy, Noisy Room, and Zenundit, among others. However, a focus on bioweapons overlooks a much more serious threat: bioswarming.

Certainly cheap, available viral technologies will hardly be an unreserved boon, but limits on conceptual complexitiy may prevent much harm. “Engineering” viri requires either the computational power or cognitive skill to model an unimaginatively complex program’s interaction on a world that’s exponentially more complex yet.

A graver threat, and one more in keeping with Robb’s affection for swarming and distributed action, is a natural plague. And considering that viri thrive on several forms of diversity, the fact that man is now an urban species is alarming. Especially when you consider that much of the Gap hosts large, urban, and poor populations that lives with minimal hygiene and a great genetic diversity (all the better for viruses to evolve in).

Human diversity is here to stay, and is indeed a weapon that works against any one virus being able to cut down a large swath of mankind. The rest of the risk factors, though, can be lessened through economic growth. “Cities” as we know them are much better than those in the Gap — indeed, by Gap standards we barely live in “cities” at all. But as long as the Gap exists, it (and not some crackpot scientist) is the most likely source for a plague. Indeed, nearly disease we know about is Gappish in origin (HIV, the flu, SARS, etc.).

Plagues are just one reason why a lassiez-faire attitude toward shrinking the gap is not just genocidal in effect against them, it is democial in effect against us. “Devil take the hindmost” translates to “just kill a lot of people generally.”

Shrinking the gap is the greatest human genetic engineering feet in the history of man. For the first time ever, genocide will not be a regular method of group-level selection. For the first time ever, mass rape will not be a regular method of group-level propagation. Such a breathtaking change is already the case among 2/3rds of humanity. We should shrink the gap not only to make their lives better, but to defend ourselves, too.

Shrink the Gap. Declare war on genocide. Overthrow the state of nature.

The Military-Industrial-Sysadmin-Complex is a 5GW Platform

Robb, J. (2007). A private sector war in Iraq? Global Guerrillas. July 4, 2007. Available online:

John’s right:

This trend towards privatization will not be reversed despite the desire by many to return to 20th century legacy force structures. Instead, the trend will continue to accelerate as the threat of disorder (accelerated by global guerrillas) begins to dwarf state vs. state conflict — the last refuge of the uniformed military…. experience with platforms (usually with a layer of information technology as a fundamental building block) across a wide variety of complex situations (most successful global firms are transitioning to them, as evidenced by a Harvard Business School study I conducted a couple of years ago) shows that they could work in this area too since they grow efficient business ecosystems, establish coherence, supercharge innovation, and provide substantial improvements in flexibility/adaptability.

Platforms are a vital part of our future success. The Military-Industrial-Sysadmin-Complex that I outlined for our 5GW to Shrink the Gap is such a platform.

While Robb presumably sees platforms are more useful in distributing small-scale violence, this is less of a threat to the United States than to other nations. Unlike the regimes spawned by the French revolution, America was built with “bazaars of violence” in her DNA: The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution protect the rights of the States to form their own militias and the right of the people to arm themselves in self-defense organizations as well.

For more on platforms, see the related articles at Kent’s Imperative, Thomas P.M. Barnett, and Zenpundit, and the related discussion at Dreaming 5GW